Many of us involved in the field of Workflow Automation and Business Process Management (BPM) have argued long and hard about where these two technologies overlap, where they are different which mathematical models to use, which standards are applicable to which part of the technology stack, and all that associated puff.

Well, these arguments and discussions are over; the demarcation lines have been drawn; the road ahead is clear.



The fact that Business Process Management has its roots in Workflow technology is well known - many of today's leading products are, in fact, evolutions of the original forms processing packages. So there is no longer a need to debate what is now a moot point.

But what has happened is that BPM has also changed. Rather than being an extension of workflow concepts, BPM is now seen as systems-to-systems technology exclusively used in the deployment of SOA solutions. I'm over simplifying things, I know, but it does seem that BPM is becoming an IT Technology solution as opposed to the business process solution it was meant to be. Somewhere along the way, one of the key elements in a business process - a person - dropped off the agenda. The fact that the majority of business processes (some 85% according to the analyst company Forrester) involve carbon-based resources was overlooked - think BPEL for a moment - doesn't the development of that particular standard tell you something about the general direction of BPM? But be warned, many vendors will tell you that their BPM products support human interaction, but what they are talking about will be simple work such as item handling and form filling - this is a long way from the collaboration and interaction management we will talk about below.

The problem stems from the fact that most Workflow products were flawed, and as a result, the problem in the gene pool has rippled through to the new BPM species. So what was wrong with workflow? It's quite simple when you think about it; most workflow products assumed that work moved from one resource to another. One user entered the loan details, another approved it. But business doesn't work like that.

This flawed thinking is probably the main reason why workflow was never quite the success most pundits thought it would be; the solutions were just not flexible enough, since the majority of processes are unsuited to this way of working. Paradoxically, it is the exact reason why BPM is so suited to the world of SOA and systems to systems processes. A rigid approach to systems processes is essential, where people are concerned; the name of the game is flexibility.

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